Wood, Douglas 1951- (Douglas Eric Wood)
Wood, Douglas 1951- (Douglas Eric Wood)
Born December 10, 1951, in New York, NY; son of James H. (a college professor) and Joyce (a college professor) Wood; married Kathryn Sokolowski (a teacher and singer), May 26, 1973; children: Eric, Bryan. Education: Morningside College (IA), B.Ed., 1973; attended St. Cloud State University, 1984. Hobbies and other interests: Canoeing and wilderness trips, tennis, fishing, reading.
Home and office—3835 Pine Point Rd., Sartell, MN 56377. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer and musician. Music teacher in Iowa and Minnesota, 1973-77; naturalist and wilderness guide in northern Minnesota, 1977—; host of weekly radio show, Wood's Lore, St. Cloud, MN, 1984-91; recording artist.
Named among Ten Outstanding Young Minnesotans by Minnesota Jaycees, 1991; Minnesota Book Award for younger children, 1992, and American Booksellers Book of the Year Award (children's division), American Booksellers Association, International Reading Association Children's Book Award, and Midwest Publishers Award, all 1993, all for Old Turtle; Minnesota Book Award nomination and North East Minnesota Book Award nomination, both 1995, both for Minnesota: The Spirit of the Land; Christopher Medal, 1999, for Grandad's Prayers of the Earth.
Old Turtle, illustrated by Cheng-Khee Chee, Pfeifer-Hamilton (Duluth, MN), 1992.
Northwoods Cradle Song: From a Menominee Lullaby, illustrated by Lisa Desimini, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
The Windigo's Return: A North Woods Story, illustrated by Greg Couch, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Rabbit and the Moon, illustrated by Leslie Baker, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.
Making the World, illustrated by Yoshi and Hibiki Miyazaki, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.
Grandad's Prayers of the Earth, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.
What Dads Can't Do, illustrated by Doug Cushman, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
What Moms Can't Do, illustrated by Doug Cushman, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
A Quiet Place, illustrated by Dan Andreasen, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
What Teachers Can't Do, illustrated by Doug Cushman, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.
Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, illustrated by Jon J. Muth, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
What Santa Can't Do, illustrated by Doug Cushman, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
The Secret of Saying Thanks, illustrated by Greg Shed, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.
What Grandmas Can't Do, illustrated by Doug Cushman, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.
Nothing to Do, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin, Dutton (New York, NY), 2006.
(And illustrator) Paddle Whispers (adult nonfiction), Pfeifer-Hamilton (Duluth, MN), 1993.
Minnesota, Naturally (adult nonfiction), Voyageur Press (Stillwater, MN), 1995.
Minnesota: The Spirit of the Land, Voyageur Press (Stillwater, MN), 1995.
(And illustrator) Fawn Island, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2001.
Lyricist on musical recordings, including Solitary Shores, EarthSong, 1980; EarthSong, NorthWord Press, 1985; Northwoods Nights, EarthSong, 1986; and Wilderness Daydreams, Pfeifer-Hamilton, 1988. Contributor of essays to NorthWriters, University of Minnesota Press, 1991; contributor of articles to magazines.
Several of Wood's books have been adapted as audiobooks.
Douglas Wood is best known for his book Old Turtle, called "a New Age fable" by School Library Journal contributor Shirley Wilton. This gently didactic book, which reminds readers of the unity of all living things, began with a modest first printing that sold out only a few weeks in Wood's native Minnesota. With continued demand, Wood—a folk singer, wilderness guide, and naturalist—embarked on a nationwide promotional tour, resulting in prestigious awards, a sequel, and Wood's new career as a children's book author.
"I never set out to write a children's book," Wood once told SATA, discussing Old Turtle in an interview. "And I sure never thought that it would touch so many people across the nation and the world. Clearly there is a resonance at work—it reaches both adults and children." Part of that resonance comes from the book's text, which is deceptively simple, like good song lyrics. Wood, who has been writing and performing music for years, is no amateur in this area. "My whole family is involved in music," he said. "My parents were both music instructors at the college level, and my two brothers are professional musicians. [In my family,] music was kind of like breathing." Trained in the piano and violin, Wood started playing guitar after he graduated from high school. While Wood continued to study the violin and majored in music at college, he was increasingly drawn to the simple yet eloquent themes of folk music. At the same time, he was plagued by a tension between his two loves. "I was always frustrated with music as a kid," Wood said, "because I didn't like to practice. I liked to be outdoors."
Music and nature continue to be the twin themes of Wood's life. While growing up in Sioux City, Iowa, the summers he spent in the north woods of Minnesota became synonymous with the outdoors. In 1975, fresh out
of college and after a stint as a music teacher in Iowa, Wood and his wife moved north. Teaching in Minnesota, he was introduced to the naturalist writings of the Minnesotan Sigurd Olson. These books, plus an encouraging correspondence with Olson himself, was a turning point in Wood's life; he combined his twin loves by writing songs about nature. He also became involved in wilderness guiding, taking workshops at the Northwoods Audubon Center near his home in St. Cloud and eventually graduating to wilderness guide himself. "The first seven years were pretty awful," Wood recalled of his early years as a professional musician, "but my wife was very supportive, and we persevered together. I had this vision of making wilderness music, and here I was performing covers in smoky bars. I remember one night walking out of a bar after a gig, and I told myself that would be the last bar I ever played in."
Wood began playing more concerts, performing original folk music with his guitar and baritone vocals. He also began publishing cassettes and albums, on both his own EarthSong label and for others. He also began writing reflective nature essays for outdoor magazines, hosted a nature program, Wood's Lore, on a local radio station, and participated in artist-in-residence programs in the Minnesota public schools.
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It was during one such public-school stint that Wood was inspired to write Old Turtle. "I'd been working all day with these kids, with their energy and love for creativity, and I was driving back to my parents' home, where I was visiting. Suddenly the idea for Old Turtle popped into my mind all of a piece. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, exactly where the story would take me. I got to my parents' house, said ‘Hi,’ and went upstairs and set to work. In a half an hour I had the basic text of what became Old Turtle. It took another couple of months to keep polishing and polishing, to turn every word into glass so that meaning could shine through clearly." Wood showed the manuscript to his publishers at Pfeifer-Hamilton, who had been working on inspirational tapes with Wood. "They saw that it was a children's book," Wood said in his interview, "and then they got hold of Cheng-Khee Chee to do the art work. Old Turtle was born. The rest is history."
Essentially a teaching book in the manner of Sufi or other religious texts, Old Turtle blends Wood's subtle word play with Chee's lush watercolors to create a message of love for one another and for the natural world. Set in a time when all living and inanimate things could communicate, Old Turtle tells of the discord caused by an argument over the forms that God takes: over knowing who or what God is. A cacophony ensues, which Old Turtle stops with sage words. To remind the world of God's presence, humans are sent to Earth, but they soon forget the message of love that they themselves are meant to convey and begin to destroy the planet. Old Turtle once again has to remind all creatures that God exists in all things.
Wood's "message of saving the Earth is told in lyrical prose and pictures that delight the eye," Wilton wrote in her School Library Journal review of Old Turtle, while a Publishers Weekly critic cited the "lilting cadence of the poetic text" in Wood's "enchanting book." Merry Mattson, writing in the Wilson Library Bulletin, called Old Turtle a "marvelous fable" that deals with the concept of God, the planet Earth, and the "interconnectedness" of all creatures.
Wood followed up his first book with Paddle Whispers, an adult book of reflections on nature and humanity's part in it. Written and illustrated by Wood, the book records a metaphoric canoe voyage that mirrors one's own journey through life. Although he has also written several other volumes of adult nonfiction, Wood's focus as an author has primarily remained in writing for children. In addition to his adaptation of Native American folktales in The Windigo Returns: A North Woods Story and Northwoods Cradle Song: From a Menominee Lullaby, Wood shares his belief in the potential of a more humane world in books such as A Quiet Place, Nothing to Do, The Secret of Saying Thanks, and Grandad's Prayers of the Earth. His sequel to Old Turtle, titled The Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, continues Wood's theme of tolerance; its story follows how a core truth is broken in two upon its fall to earth, thus causing undue suffering until a child reunites the truth's two halves. As GraceAnne A. DeCandido noted in Booklist, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth benefits from John J. Muth's "gorgeous, shimmering" pen-and-ink and watercolor art, while School Library Journal reviewer Marianne Saccardi predicted that Wood's "beautiful text" is "is sure to spark discussion among older [elementary-grade] students."
In The Windigo Returns members of an Ojibwe tribe notice that some of their people are missing, and the terrifying Windigo is blamed. A pit is dug, and when the Windigo is tricked into falling into it, the creature is set on fire. His dying threat—that he will return to eat the tribe and all succeeding generations—is considered to come true the next summer in the stinging bite of the mosquito. "The changing seasons flow through this story like a slow river, linking the plot to nature's calendar," remarked a contributor to Kirkus Reviews of Wood's porquois tale. Karen Morgan, writing in Booklist, considered Wood's blend of horror and humor utterly successful, citing the transformation of the monster's ashes into the ubiquitous and annoying mosquito. In The Windigo Returns Wood offers readers "a blending of humor and spookiness that children will surely love," Morgan concluded.
Northwoods Cradle Song is an adaptation of a Menominee lullaby that finds a Native-American woman rock- ing her child and pointing out the ways in which other creatures in nature are also preparing to go to sleep. "The tender tone and quiet, respectful references to nature beautifully convey the timeless sense of night and lullaby," remarked Margaret A. Bush in Horn Book, while a Publishers Weekly contributor concluded that "Wood has crafted an image-rich, eminently musical lullaby."
In Rabbit and the Moon Wood crafts another Native-American folktale which, like The Windigo Returns, contains a pourquoi element. Rabbit wishes he could ride on the moon and convinces Crane to fly him up to the sky. Holding onto the bird's legs so tightly that they bleed, and patting the bird in thanks upon his arrival, Rabbit thus gives Crane its distinctive red legs and crown.
Like Old Turtle, the message of Making the World drives the story, as artists Yoshi and Hibiki Miyazaki join Wood to journey from continent to continent, observing how the world is continually altered by its interactions with wind and sun, animals and humans. "This ambitious, philosophical picture book, with its lyrical, simple prose, attempts to show how everything and everyone has a significant effect upon life and the landscape," Shelle Rosenfeld observed in Booklist. For Diane Nunn, writing in School Library Journal, the collaboration between illustration and text in Making the World "broadens a young child's awareness of our planet, its beauty, and everyone's ability to affect change."
In Grandad's Prayers of the Earth a young boy asks his father about prayer and receives an answer that encompasses all the creatures on earth. When the grandfather dies, the boy loses his ability to pray for a long time, until one day, when he returns to the forest where Grandad first explained it to him. "This is a depiction of the spiritual that is without reference to a particular faith or tradition, and that doesn't lapse into greeting-card platitudes," observed a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. By centering his story on the loving relationship between a grandson and grandfather, and through extensive use of tangible metaphors, Wood makes "a difficult religious concept somewhat more concrete for children," remarked a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Likewise, Shelley Townsend-Hudson concluded in Booklist that in Grandad's Prayers of the Earth "Wood presents the subjects of prayer and death in a way that stirs the imagination and offers hope."
In A Quiet Place Wood "hearkens back to a simpler time," according to a Kirkus Reviews writer. Enhanced by acrylic paintings by Dan Andreasen that evoke what Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman dubbed an "old-fashioned Saturday Evening Post" nostalgia, the simple story follows a boy as he uses his imagination to expand his experiences beyond what he sees, ultimately finding the greatest serenity inside himself. Although several reviewers remarked that Wood's ode to solitude
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would appeal more to adults than children, Rochman maintained that "many children will welcome the change of pace," and that "the imaginary adventures" contained in Andreasen's paintings "are elemental." Citing a text "saturated with simile and metaphor," a Publishers Weekly reviewer called A Quiet Place "a vivid romp through a child's imagination," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor cited the picture book as "solid soul guidance for a media-saturated society."
Similar in theme to A Quiet Place, Nothing to Do is Wood's "picture-book celebration of the joys to be found in all-too-rare unscheduled time," according to a Publishers Weekly writer. Another reflective picture book, The Secret of Saying Thanks, focuses on acknowledging and appreciating the simple things in life. Employing a "gentle, assured tone and graceful phrasing," in the opinion of a Publishers Weekly contributor, Wood's message in this book is filtered through many faiths and reflected in Greg Shed's detailed paintings about a girl and her dog. The Secret of Saying Thanks serves as "a quiet, reflective piece on the importance of a grateful attitude," noted School Library Journal contributor Roxanne Burg, the book's focus extending to "the wonders of nature as well as the comforts of home and family," according to a Kirkus Reviews writer.
Wood is also the author of several humorous picture books featuring dinosaurs as main characters. In What Dads Can't Do and What Moms Can't Do, a young dinosaur narrator recounts the many things his parents cannot seem to get right without his help, from picking out clothes to sleeping in on Saturday morning. At the end of each book, however, the young dinosaur allows that one thing parents always know how to do is love their children. A similar format extends to books on the limitations of Grandmas, Grandpas, teachers, and even Santa. "This amusing picture book will tickle youngsters' funny bones and make every parent and child smile with recognition," predicted Wanda Meyers-Hines in a review of What Dads Can't Do for School Library Journal.
"I love writing for children," Wood once told SATA. "It is clearly different than writing for adults, which is not to say that one is less important. It's the focus I take that is different. I write for children in a pure way. It's idea-oriented, and my number-one priority is to find one good and meaningful idea. In that way, it's not so different than writing a good song. All my years spent song writing prepared me very well for writing children's books. That experience enabled me to hear and listen for the rhythm of a sentence. I'll spend two hours on a sentence getting the rhythm right. I'm always using my ear when I write."
As for the effect he hopes his work makes on his readers, Wood is very clear. "I came to a decision long ago that I was not going to be topical or political in my work. And I am not a scientist. What I am is a poet. I want to try to capture in my words and music the meanings of nature. And if by those words and that music I can help someone else fall in love with the Earth, then I've done my job, because they will find a way to become connected in it and to help re-establish a connectedness with others. To me, the natural world is inside us all as well as outside. We're all a part of one big thing called nature, and when we forget that, that's when bad things happen."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Audubon, November-December, 2001, Christopher Camuto, review of Grandad's Prayers of the Earth, p. 86.
Bloomsbury Review, December, 1991, p. 19.
Booklist, August, 1992, Julie Corsaro, review of Old Turtle, p. 2016; September 15, 1996, Karen Morgan, review of The Windigo's Return: A North Woods Story, p. 235; February 15, 1998, Elizabeth Drennan, review of Rabbit and the Moon, p. 1016; July, 1998, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Making the World, p. 1892; December 1, 1999, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Grandad's Prayers of the Earth, p. 715; April 15, 2001, Amy Brandt, review of What Moms Can't Do, p. 1567; February 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of A Quiet Place, p. 1023; August, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of What Teachers Can't Do, p. 1777; November 15, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, p. 604; May 1, 2006, Gillian Engberg, review of Nothing to Do, p. 94.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1996, Betsy Hearne, review of The Windigo's Return, p. 112.
Horn Book, May-June, 1996, Margaret A. Bush, review of Northwood's Cradle Song: From a Menominee Lullaby, p. 331.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1991, p. 1541; July 15, 1996, review of The Windigo's Return, pp. 1057-1058; January 15, 1998, review of Rabbit and the Moon, p. 120; November 1, 1999, review of Grandad's Prayers of the Earth, p. 1750; March 15, 2002, review of A Quiet Place, p. 429; June 1, 2002, review of What Teachers Can't Do, p. 814; October 1, 2005, review of The Secret of Saying Thanks, p. 1092; April 15, 2006, review of Nothing to Do, p. 419.
Los Angeles Times, August 29, 1992, Lynne Heffley, "Naturalist Sings, Writes of Love of Earth," pp. F5, F7.
Publishers Weekly, January 1, 1992, review of Old Turtle, p. 55; April 15, 1996, review of Northwoods Cradle Song, p. 67; September 16, 1996, review of The Windigo's Return, p. 82; February 23, 1998, review of Rabbit and the Moon, p. 75; August 10, 1998, review of Making the World, p. 386; September 27, 1999, review of Grandad's Prayers of the Earth, p. 97; May 15, 2000, review of What Dads Can"t Do, p. 115; July 2, 2001, review of Rabbit and the Moon, p. 78; February 4, 2002, review of A Quiet Place, p. 75; September 22, 2003, review of What Santa Can't Do, p. 69; October 27, 2003, review of Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, p. 68; August 29, 2005, review of The Secret of Saying Thanks, p. 60; May 29, 2006, review of Nothing to Do, p. 57.
School Library Journal, June, 1992, Shirley Wilton, review of Old Turtle, p. 105; May, 1996, Ruth K. MacDonald, review of Northwoods Cradle Song, p. 109; November, 1996, Ellen Fader, review of The Windigo's Return, p. 102; July, 1998, Adele Greenlee, review of Rabbit and the Moon, p. 91; August, 1998, Diane Nunn, review of Making the World, pp. 147-148; January, 2000, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Grandad's Prayers of the Earth, p. 114; May, 2000, Wanda Meyers-Hines, review of What Dads Can't Do, p. 159; March, 2001, Sally R. Dow, review of What Moms Can't Do, p. 224; July, 2002, Jody McCoy, review of A Quiet Place, p. 102; October, 2002, Louise L. Sherman, review of What Teachers Can't Do, p. 136; October, 2003, Linda Israelson, review of What Santa Can't Do, p. 69; December, 2003, Marianne Saccardi, review of Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, p. 162; July, 2005, Kathleen Whalin, review of What Grandmas Can't Do, p. 85: October, 2005, Roxanne Burg, review of The Secret of Saying Thanks, p. 134; May, 2006, Maryann H. Owen, review of Nothing to Do, p. 106.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1992, p. 38.
Wilson Library Bulletin, December, 1993, Merry Mattson, review of Old Turtle, p. 31.
Douglas Wood Home Page,http://www.douglaswood.com (May 10, 2007).